The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan, by James Justinian Morier

Chapter lxxvi

Hajji Baba writes the history of Europe and with his ambassador returns to Persia.

I returned to my ambassador full of the information I had acquired, and all-joyous at the success which had attended my first essay in diplomatic life. He was delighted at the memoir I had drawn up from the materials furnished me by the Katib, and as long as we remained at Constantinople daily sent me in search of further particulars, until we both thought ourselves sufficiently in force to be able to draw up a general History of Europe, which the Centre of the Universe in his instructions to the ambassador had ordered him to present on his return. Most assiduously did I apply myself in composing this precious morsel of history. I made a rough draft, which was submitted to the correction of my chief, and when he had seasoned its contents to the palate of the King of Kings, softening down those parts which might appear improbable, and adding to those not sufficiently strong, he delivered it over to a clerk, who in a fair hand transcribed the whole, until a very handsome volume was produced. It was duly bound, ornamented, and inserted in a silk and muslin bag, and then the ambassador conceived it might be fit to be placed in the hands of the Shah.

Mirza Firouz having now, as he conceived, accomplished the objects of his mission, prepared to return, and announced his intention not only of taking me with him, but also of continuing me in the employ of the government as soon as we should reach Tehran; ‘for,’ said he, ‘a person so well acquainted with the interests of the Franks will be of great use in treating with the infidel ambassadors now in Persia.’

He could not have devised a plan better suited to my wishes; for after my cruel treatment by the Turks, I hated everything relating to them. Their city was become odious to me, and whenever I thought upon Shekerleb my heart swelled with rage. Much time had now elapsed since my affair with the chief priest of Tehran. The mollah Nadân, so I had heard, had long ago been blown from the mouth of a mortar, and the widow, whom I left in the hands of the Cûrds, had never returned to Persia. Therefore, I concluded I might show myself in all safety, for I argued thus: should I even be recognized, still who would venture to molest me, powerfully protected as I should be by men in office? The chief executioner had recovered possession of his horse and furniture, when the unfortunate Nadân had been seized; and there was every reason to suppose that Abdul Kerim had shared the fate of his mistress, the chief priest’s widow, for he had no more been heard of; so I did not fear that he would call upon me to refund the hundred tomauns. What had I then to apprehend on returning to Tehran? Nothing that I could foresee; and if once it were known that I was a servant of the Shah, even being a thousand times more criminal than I was in fact, I might put my cap on one side and walk all over the empire with impunity.

Fortified by these reflections, I made my preparations with alacrity to accompany the ambassador. But previous to our departure, I determined upon visiting my countrymen in the caravanserai, where with a better chance of success I now might give myself those airs of importance which had succeeded so ill at my last exhibition. Having taken some trouble to make it well understood that I was attached to the embassy, I no longer dreaded their contempt; and such is the respect that one invested with that character is sure to inspire, that on this occasion I had no reason to complain of any want of attention. Every word addressed to me was now prefaced with, By your favour, By your condescension, May your kindness never be less; and compliments which never ended, interlarded all the fine discourses I heard. To hear them, nobody could have ever supposed that I was the same person whom not two months before they had laughed to scorn: on the contrary, one ignorant of the circumstance would have set me down for a personage upon whom the issues of life and death depended. But when I took my leave of the old Osman, I found him unchanged, and every word he spoke showed that his affection for the son of the barber of Ispahan was the feeling which ever actuated his conduct towards me. ‘Go, my son,’ said he, as he parted from me, ‘whether you be a prisoner with the Turcomans, or a priest, or a seller of pipe-sticks, or a Turkish aga, or a Persian mirza; be you what you may. I shall always put up my prayers for your prosperity, and may Allah attend your steps wherever you go.’

Having made his visits of ceremony, and taken his leave of the Turkish authorities, the ambassador left Scutari, accompanied by a large company of his own countrymen, who conducted him about one parasang on the road to Persia, and then received their dismissal. Our journey was propitious, and nothing took place in it worthy of notice from the day of our departure until our arrival in Persia. At Erivan we heard the news of the day, though but imperfectly; but at Tabriz, the seat of Abbas Mirza’s government, we were initiated into the various questions which then agitated the country and the court. The principal one was the rivalry between the French and English ambassadors; the object of the former, who had already been received by the Shah, being to keep away the latter, who had not yet reached the foot of the throne.

Various were the anecdotes related of the exertions made by them to attain their ends, and the whole of Persia was thrown into astonishment upon seeing infidels come so far from their own countries, at so much trouble and expense, to quarrel in the face of a whole nation of true believers, who were sure to despise, to deride, and to take them in.

The Frenchman, by way of enforcing his demands, constantly brought forward the power of his own sovereign, his greatness and preponderance over all the states of Europe, and did not cease to extol the immense numbers of troops he could bring into the field.

To this he was answered, ‘That may be very true; but what is that to us? Whole empires intervene, and, therefore, what affinity can there be between France and Persia?

‘But,’ said the Frenchman, ‘we want to conquer India from the English, and we wish to have an open road through your territories.’

‘What is that to us?’ again said the Shah: ‘you may want India, but we are in no way anxious to entertain your troops.’

‘But we will conquer Georgia for you, put you in possession of Teflis, and secure you from further molestation from the Russians.’

‘That is another case,’ said the Shah; ‘when once we see the effects of your interference, and hear that there are no more Russians on this side the Caucasus, we will treat with you: until then we can allow no passage through our territories, nor break with our old friends the English!’

On the other hand, the English said, ‘The French can have no other object in coming to Persia than to molest us; we require that you send them away.’

‘How!’ said the Shah, ‘we cannot do that; for that would be against the laws of hospitality. The gate of our palace is open to every one.’

‘But,’ urged the English, ‘you must either retain one or the other — and must decide between us. Either agree to be our friends and expel the French, or make up your minds to receive us as enemies.’

‘Why should we make ourselves enemies to please you? We want to be friends with all the world.’

‘But,’ continued the English, ‘we will help and strengthen you, and give you money.’

‘Oh! that is another case,’ said the Shah; ‘tell me how much, and then all may be done.’

Such was nearly the state of things when we left Tabriz, and as my ambassador was expected with impatience at Tehran, we did not tarry long with the prince royal, but prosecuted our journey with all dispatch.

On the morning of our arrival at Sultanieh, on the road from Tehran, we discovered a long train of horsemen with their baggage, whom we could make out were not Persians, and whom as they approached we saw were Franks. They were accompanied by a mehmander, an officer from the Shah, who informed us, that this was the French embassy on its return, who it seems had been politely requested to take its leave; and it was moreover added, that the English ambassador would very shortly take its place.

This at once explained how matters stood at court, and that between the rival bidders for his majesty’s favour, the King of Kings had come to a good market. My ambassador was rather surprised how such a determination could have been taken previous to his arrival, fraught as he was with important information upon all the nations of Europe; but every difficulty is easily explained away when money is permitted to exert its eloquence, particularly if one recollects the words of the sheikh —

'Let money only appear, and every head is prostrate.

'Tis thus, the heaviest weight in the scales lowers the iron beam.'

We were happy to have an opportunity of observing the manners of a nation about whom we had lately heard so much, and as we passed the day together in the same place, my chief did not fail to make himself known to the French ambassador.

We expected of course to find them much depressed in spirits, and in no good humour, having been driven as it were from the presence of the Earth’s Centre; but what was our surprise to remark the contrary! Never did Persia see such a company of madmen. They were singing, dancing, and making the lûti all the livelong day. They all talked at once, one louder than the other, without any apparent deference to rank, for all seemed on the same footing. Without in the least respecting our carpets, they were eternally pacing them with rapid strides, and, what most shocked our feelings, spitting upon them. As I now looked upon myself in some measure identified with the Franks, considering at what pains I had lately been to acquire information concerning them, I endeavoured to discover if there was any affinity between their language and ours; but not a word could I comprehend. However, I thought to have made some progress in it, by recollecting and writing down the words in their speech which most frequently occurred — one was sacré, the other Paris, and a third l’Empereur.

Sketch of Captain L— — a French officer of cavalry who deserted from the French Legation and took service in the Persian army.

(From a sketch by James Morier.)

On the whole we liked them. We thought to discern many points of similitude between them and ourselves; and were of opinion, that if as infidels they were doomed to the douzak of hereafter, even there, instead of moaning over and deploring their lot, they would still be found in the same happy mood we saw them at Sultanieh.

We parted on the following morning, they laughing, chattering, and screaming with joy; we, full of anxiety and apprehension about the reception with which our ambassador would meet from the King of Kings.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58